Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] 50 and Acts 24

Sirach 50 – High Priest Simon II, son of Onias III (220-195 BC) is celebrated. He repaired the Temple. His portrayal of this High Priest seems filled with sensual images that indicate he has actually seen him emerge from the Sanctuary. So perhaps we could put the writer in this 3rd-2nd century period. He is a “youthful cedar of Lebanon” (50:12). He is not a famous historical figure, so he must just be a man respected by the author in his time.

“And now bless the God of all things, the doer of great deeds everywhere, who has exalted our days from the womb and acted towards us in his mercy. May be grant us cheerful hearts and bring peace in our time, in Israel for ages on ages. May his mercy be faithfully with us, may he redeem us in our time.” (50:22-24). 

If the reader of these words takes them to heart, “if he practices them he will be strong enough for anything, since the light of the Lord is his path” (50:29).

Acts 24 – Five days after Paul is brought to Caesarea, Ananias, the High Priest at the time, and a lawyer named Tertullus come before Felix to present their case against Paul. Tertullus praises the Governor for the peace and reforms he has brought to the region and argues that Paul is a pest who stirs up trouble among the Jews wherever he goes; he is a “ringleader of the Nazarene sect” (24:6).

Paul is asked to defend himself. Paul denies stirring up any trouble, but says it is true he worships “according to the Way” (24:13). He continues to believe “all points of the Law and . . .what is written in the prophets” (24:14). Christianity was not meant in Paul’s eyes to be seen as a NEW religion; it is Judaism fulfilled and complete. He believes in the resurrection of the dead, both good and bad and he tries “as much as they . . . to keep a clear conscience at all times before God and man” (24:16).

Having been away for some years, he says he returned to “bring alms” to his people and “to make offerings” (24:17). It was the “Jews from Asia” (24:19) who are the ones who created the uproar. They are the ones who should be brought before the Governor to make their accusations. “Asia” here refers to the province of Asiana in the Roman Republic – the southwestern part of Asia Minor.

It turns out Felix “knew more about the Way than most people” (24:22). He orders Paul kept “under arrest but free from restriction” (24:23) until Lysias, the commander, can arrive.

A few days later Felix and his wife Drusilla (Jewish) come to hear Paul discuss his faith, “but when he began to treat of righteousness, self-control and the coming Judgment, Felix took fright” (24:25) and sends Paul away. He calls him before him several other times over the next two years, hoping somehow to get money from Paul and gain favor from the Jews.

Finally Felix is replaced by Porcius Festus (c.59-62 AD).

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